Vorkuta - Ten miners were killed and seven missing on Monday when a methane explosion tore through a coal mine in the remote Russian Far North town of Vorkuta within the Arctic Circle, the emergencies ministry said, the latest disaster to hit the country's mining industry.
A total of 259 miners were working underground when the explosion occurred at the Vorkutinskaya mine in the Komi region controlled by Russian steel-making giant Severstal.
Most of them have been evacuated but when the rescue workers arrived at the scene they found 10 bodies, the ministry said.
“The fate of seven people remains unclear,” it said in a statement, adding that more than 280 rescue workers were working on salvage operations at the scene.
Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov will personally go to the mine to oversee the rescue operation, said ministry spokeswoman Elena Smirnykh.
The families of the dead miners will receive two million rubles ($66 000) each, she told AFP.
Some of the rescued workers were injured, said Smirnykh, adding that a plane was dispatched from Moscow to the mine to help hospitalise the miners.
The emergencies ministry had earlier said around two dozen miners were working in the shaft where the explosion believed to have been caused by methane ripped through the mine.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tasked his deputy Arkady Dvorkovich with the responsibility to provide assistance to families of the dead miners.
“An accident took place in Komi,” a grim-faced Medvedev said in televised remarks. “Put together the complete information and report on what is happening.”
The mine in the northern city of Vorkuta is operated by Vorkutaugol, part of the coal mining division of the Russian steel-making giant Severstal whose mills it provides with hard coking coal concentrate.
It has been working since 1973 with an output of 1.8 million tons of coal a year and its reserves of coal are estimated at 40 million tons.
Vorkutaugol spokesman Yevgeny Sukharev said the company paid “unprecedented attention” to safety standards. “Everyone is in shock,” he told AFP.
According to the company's website, in 2011 the Vorkutinskaya mine won a corporate award for “worthy working conditions -- the basis for respect in the work force”.
Known for its extremely inhospitable climate, Vorkuta was home to one of the most infamous Stalin-era prison camps, the Vorkuta Gulag.
Deadly blasts which usually caused by a build-up in methane gas remain a frequent occurrence in the coal mining industry in Russia despite recent drives to improve safety.
In 2010, more than 60 people were killed in twin methane blasts at Russia's biggest underground coal mine, the Raspadskaya mine in the Kemerovo region of Siberia.